Supreme Court rules against Spain over failure to meet refugee quota

The court has ruled in favour of Stop Mare Nostrum, which advocates safer ways to welcome refugees

Spain’s Supreme Court has rebuked the Spanish State for failing to meet the 19,449 refugee quota set by the European Union in 2015, which should have been reached by September 2017 with refugees coming from Greece and Italy. The Mariano Rajoy administration had agreed to take on a measly 12.8 per cent of refugees, but failed to meet this target. Now the Supreme Court has admonished the Spanish authorities, pointing out that this was an obligatory, binding commitment.

The ruling dismisses the arguments put forward by the State's counsel, who had initially claimed that it was not for the court to rule on a matter of this nature and also argued that Greece’s asylum management system had collapsed.

The ruling was handed down following an appeal lodged by Stop Mare Nostrum, a platform that advocates establishing safer, lawful ways for the arrival of refugees that will end the string of deaths in the Mediterranean Sea. Sònia Ros, a member of the platform’s legal team, said that “this is a historic victory because organised civil society has managed to hold the government to account over its immigration policy. We are delighted that it has been made clear to the member states that safeguarding people’s rights is not optional, but mandatory for everyone”. However, Ros warned that “we will have to see how the sentence is carried out” and that the NGOs will stay alert to ensure that a real change takes place. They also warned PM Pedro Sánchez that this ruling “is a unique opportunity for the Spanish authorities to stop improvising and allowing the odd boat to dock and the refugees to disembark surrounded by flashing cameras”.

The ruling only alludes to the system of quotas which the European Commission established in order to lighten up the load of Italy and Greece, who were the EU’s gateway countries for refugees at the time. In September 2015 Mariano Rajoy’s administration agreed to take on 17,337 people with resettlement (from non-EU countries such as Lebanon) and relocation (from Greece and Italy) policies. Yet the court has ruled that Spain was meant to take on all 19,449 people, the figure that it had been allocated by the European Commission, which was Spain’s share of the 160,000 refugees that Europe had agreed to welcome. The criteria used to set each country’s quota included population, GDP and unemployment rate, among others. At any rate, Spain had only offered 2,500 places by March 4 (1,875 relocating from Greece and 625 from Italy).

The court has made it clear that administrative difficulties are no excuse for the authorities not to fulfil their commitments, nor the fact that other countries have also failed to reach their quota. Furthermore, the ruling emphasises that the State must remain committed to helping refugees, even if it is a temporary measure whose implementation is overdue.

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